A Visit To The National Gallery

We hit the National Gallery last week, because they had not one, not two, but three special exhibits on that were must-see shows for me.

There was the Alex Coville retrospective, which was fantastic – lots of famous art, lots of things to learn, and best of all, snippets of great movies that had been inspired by his work (did you know that FOUR of his paintings appear in The Shining?).


There’s a Marc Chagall exhibit, his drawings from the book Dauphnis and Chloe, and he’s my all time favourite artist, although there was a LOT of explaining to the kids why everyone was naked all the time, plus one of my kids asked loudly, “WHAT’S A HYMEN?” in the middle of the exhibit, so you know, maybe think twice about bringing the kids.

There’s also a small feature on Mary Pratt and her famous paintings of pots of jam, and I’m now an enormous fan of her lovely, bold, brilliant work.



But the most interesting part about going to the art gallery is all the warnings. We are like, on the Most Wanted list at the Art Gallery, it would seem. I think we received a stiff warning from every single guard we encountered.

Too close to the art. TOO CLOSE TO THE ART. Lady, I’m going to have to ask you leave if I have to warn you one more time.

No running in the gallery. NO RUN! I will ask you to leave if there is running.

Only one person working with the interactive art at a time. I have told you this once already.

No pictures in here. Don’t touch the water in the fountain, it is part of the artwork. No backpacks allowed.

That last one is interesting to me, because no backpacks are allowed, but purses are allowed. I have seen ladies bring in purses that could easily conceal the Mona Lisa, and I have been there with my little leather “fashion” backpack, about 10 inches square, and been made to check it simply because of the way it is worn.

I prefer to bring a backpack with me when I go out with the kids for comfort – I always travel with a ton of allergy meds and other emergency supplies – and the gallery, to their credit, will give me an exception for my backpack for medical reasons. But here is the weird thing: even though they give me a backpack exception, I am not allowed to carry it on my back. One-strapping is fine, or I can wear it on my front. I am allowed to carry it in my hand. But two-strapping, in traditional backpack style? No.

I got called out on this like, five times by the security guards. You must wear your backpack with one strap. It says so right on your security tag. I wasn’t trying to break the rule, it was just habit – every time I took it off I slipped it back on two-strapped, then got warned about 30 seconds later by a guard. Each time, I apologized and immediately corrected the situation.

But now I wonder…why? Not that I’m looking to create a problem here, it’s a simple enough rule to follow, but I just don’t get it. Why can I have my backpack, but not wear it like a backpack? Is it that I’m more likely to bump into something? Is it some sort of security risk? Is it that the gallery staff think backpacks are ugly, and they offend any sane person’s artistic sensibility?

It’s a mystery.

10 thoughts on “A Visit To The National Gallery

  1. You must feel like a criminal. This kind of talking to an adult, no less, is very concerning if you ask me. You are taking kids, some of which are tweens, to see art, not something many kids can handle. You are educating them in a fun way and they like it (or appear to like it), and yet, you are constantly being reprimanded for things? I mean, granted, there may be certain rules that must be followed for whatever reason, but isn’t there a way to speak to someone that doesn’t sound like you’re committing some serious crime? A way to ‘educate’ a person who is stepping too close without making them want to run (or, walk…) the other way and never return?

    And the bag thing bugs me too. SIGH.

    Having said that, it sounds like you still had a lovely time observing the creativity in there. But good for you for your honesty in the post above.

    1. I wasn’t really mad about it, or anything – in fact it became kind of a running joke for me and the kids. We don’t mind following the rules or being told to follow the rules (well, a little nicer and more patient would have been good!). But the thing with the one-strap? It’s just mystifying. It’s keeping me up at night :).

  2. Zhu

    Re. the warnings… We went with Mark a few months ago during a “free Thursday pm” and I thought it was going to be a disaster because Mark was cranky and rebellious that day. I kept a very very close eye on him and I made sure people around us (both visitors and staff) noticed that I was watching him, but we felt very welcome. I had to remind him several time to walk slowly and stay behind the line but I didn’t get “the talk”, just a fairly appreciative nod from the staff.

    Maybe they had several incidents during the holiday?

  3. TiredMama1

    That is very weird. I’m impressed that you tried to be a rebel though…. 😉 And now I’m going to check out what is on here at the local art gallery. I haven’t been in about a year. Thanks for the idea!

  4. Yeah, I’m really torn about the Art Gallery. They say they want families, but … I have just about the most well-behaved kids possible (IN PUBLIC, I hasten to add) and we still get warnings and sideways looks.

    I feel like it’s this big elephant in the room and, instead, it would be good to address it head-on in a kind of funny way, with big signs that say, “You may wonder what the rules are here – this is what they are, and this is why … etc.”

    My son got told he was standing too close to the art, but it’s because he was SO into it and he would never, in a million years, have touched it, but the thing is he also would never, in a million years have stood too close to it if there was some info saying “To keep everybody comfortable, including our security guards, please stay one big step back from the art work” or something like that.

    I think there’s a lost opportunity to be engaging and perform outreach by actually talking about what the rules are in an art gallery and why they exist.

    National Art Gallery – are you listening?

    1. Oh, and, we were on a field trip at the gallery with a bunch of grade three kids, and right outside the bathrooms downstairs there was a video art installation depicting a man drinking heavily and dropping frequent F-bombs and other obscenities. I tell you, I felt like giving a stern warning to the gallery staff, but I was too busy trying to stand between the kids and the screen!

  5. OMG DO NOT GET ME STARTED ONTHE DISCRIMINATION OF BACKPACKS IN FAVOUR OF PURSES. Not just backpacks no, purses yes, regardless of size, but also women yes, men no regardless of what the man is carrying. OUTRAGE.

  6. CarlyCarly

    Okay so I’ve now added the National Art Gallery to my list of places not to bring the kids . . . but re: the backpack thing . . . is it remotely possible they’re worried about people bumping into exhibits because they’re not aware of how much room their backpack is taking up on their backs? I only suggest it because of the many, many mornings that my big boy has completely knocked his little brother to the floor with his backpack. 😉

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